Belshazzar Sees Mysterious Handwriting on a Wall
1 King Belshazzar#sn As is clear from the extra-biblical records, it was actually Nabonidus (ca. 556-539 B.C.) who was king of Babylon at this time. However, Nabonidus spent long periods of time at Teima, and during those times Belshazzar his son was de facto king of Babylon. This arrangement may help to explain why later in this chapter Belshazzar promises that the successful interpreter of the handwriting on the wall will be made third ruler in the kingdom. If Belshazzar was in effect second ruler in the kingdom, this would be the highest honor he could grant. prepared a great banquet#sn This scene of a Babylonian banquet calls to mind a similar grandiose event recorded in Esth 1:3-8. Persian kings were also renowned in the ancient Near Eastern world for their lavish banquets. for a thousand of his nobles, and he was drinking wine in front of#sn The king probably sat at an elevated head table. them all.#tn Aram “the thousand.” 2 While under the influence#tn Or perhaps, “when he had tasted” (cf. NASB) in the sense of officially initiating the commencement of the banquet. The translation above seems preferable, however, given the clear evidence of inebriation in the context (cf. also CEV “he got drunk and ordered”). of the wine, Belshazzar issued an order to bring in the gold and silver vessels – the ones that Nebuchadnezzar his father#tn Or “ancestor”; or “predecessor” (also in vv. 11, 13, 18). The Aramaic word translated “father” can on occasion denote these other relationships. had confiscated#tn Or “taken.” from the temple in Jerusalem#map For location see Map5-B1; Map6-F3; Map7-E2; Map8-F2; Map10-B3; JP1-F4; JP2-F4; JP3-F4; JP4-F4. – so that the king and his nobles, together with his wives and his concubines, could drink from them.#sn Making use of sacred temple vessels for an occasion of reveling and drunkenness such as this would have been a religious affront of shocking proportions to the Jewish captives. 3 So they brought the gold and silver#tc The present translation reads וְכַסְפָּא (vÿkhaspa’, “and the silver”) with Theodotion and the Vulgate. Cf. v. 2. The form was probably accidentally dropped from the Aramaic text by homoioteleuton. vessels that had been confiscated from the temple, the house of God#tn Aram “the temple of the house of God.” The phrase seems rather awkward. The Vulgate lacks “of the house of God,” while Theodotion and the Syriac lack “the house.” in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, together with his wives and concubines, drank from them. 4 As they drank wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.
5 At that very moment the fingers of a human hand appeared#tn Aram “came forth.” and wrote on the plaster of the royal palace wall, opposite the lampstand.#sn The mention of the lampstand in this context is of interest because it suggests that the writing was in clear view. The king was watching the back#tn While Aramaic פַּס (pas) can mean the palm of the hand, here it seems to be the back of the hand that is intended. of the hand that was writing. 6 Then all the color drained from the king’s face#tn Aram “[the king’s] brightness changed for him.” and he became alarmed.#tn Aram “his thoughts were alarming him.” The joints of his hips gave way,#tn Aram “his loins went slack.” and his knees began knocking together. 7 The king called out loudly#tn Aram “in strength.” to summon#tn Aram “cause to enter.” the astrologers, wise men, and diviners. The king proclaimed#tn Aram “answered and said.” to the wise men of Babylon that anyone who could read this inscription and disclose its interpretation would be clothed in purple#sn Purple was a color associated with royalty in the ancient world. and have a golden collar#tn The term translated “golden collar” here probably refers to something more substantial than merely a gold chain (cf. NIV, NCV, NRSV, NLT) or necklace (cf. NASB). placed on his neck and be third ruler in the kingdom.
8 So all the king’s wise men came in, but they were unable to read the writing or to make known its#tc Read וּפִשְׁרֵהּ (ufishreh) with the Qere rather than וּפִשְׁרָא (ufishra’) of the Kethib. interpretation to the king. 9 Then King Belshazzar was very terrified, and he was visibly shaken.#tn Aram “his visage altered upon him.” So also in v. 10. His nobles were completely dumbfounded.
10 Due to the noise#tn Aram “words of the king.” caused by the king and his nobles, the queen mother#tn Aram “the queen” (so NAB, NASB, NIV, NRSV). In the following discourse this woman is able to recall things about Daniel that go back to the days of Nebuchadnezzar, things that Belshazzar does not seem to recollect. It is likely that she was the wife not of Belshazzar but of Nabonidus or perhaps even Nebuchadnezzar. In that case, “queen” here means “queen mother” (cf. NCV “the king’s mother”). then entered the banquet room. She#tn Aram “The queen.” The translation has used the pronoun “she” instead because repetition of the noun here would be redundant in terms of English style. said, “O king, live forever! Don’t be alarmed! Don’t be shaken! 11 There is a man in your kingdom who has within him a spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father, he proved to have#tn Aram “[there were] discovered to be in him.” insight, discernment, and wisdom like that#tn Aram “wisdom like the wisdom.” This would be redundant in terms of English style. of the gods.#tc Theodotion lacks the phrase “and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods.” King Nebuchadnezzar your father appointed him chief of the magicians, astrologers, wise men, and diviners.#tc The MT includes a redundant reference to “your father the king” at the end of v. 11. None of the attempts to explain this phrase as original are very convincing. The present translation deletes the phrase, following Theodotion and the Syriac. 12 Thus there was found in this man Daniel, whom the king renamed Belteshazzar, an extraordinary spirit, knowledge, and skill to interpret#tc The translation reads מִפְשַׁר (mifshar) rather than the MT מְפַשַּׁר (mÿfashar) and later in the verse reads וּמִשְׁרֵא (mishre’) rather than the MT וּמְשָׁרֵא (mÿshare’). The Masoretes have understood these Aramaic forms to be participles, but they are more likely to be vocalized as infinitives. As such, they have an epexegetical function in the syntax of their clause. dreams, solve riddles, and decipher knotty problems.#tn Aram “to loose knots.” Now summon#tn Aram “let [Daniel] be summoned.” Daniel, and he will disclose the interpretation.”
13 So Daniel was brought in before the king. The king said to Daniel, “Are you that Daniel who is one of the captives of Judah, whom my father the king brought from Judah? 14 I have heard about you, how there is a spirit of the gods in you, and how you have#tn Aram “there has been found in you.” insight, discernment, and extraordinary wisdom. 15 Now the wise men and#tn The Aramaic text does not have “and.” The term “astrologers” is either an appositive for “wise men” (cf. KJV, NKJV, ASV, RSV, NRSV), or the construction is to be understood as asyndetic (so the translation above). astrologers were brought before me to read this writing and make known to me its interpretation. But they were unable to disclose the interpretation of the message. 16 However, I have heard#tn The Aramaic text has also the words “about you.” that you are able to provide interpretations and to decipher knotty problems. Now if you are able to read this writing and make known to me its interpretation, you will wear purple and have a golden collar around your neck and be third#tn Or perhaps “one of three rulers,” in the sense of becoming part of a triumvir. So also v. 29. ruler in the kingdom.”
Daniel Interprets the Handwriting on the Wall
17 But Daniel replied to the king, “Keep your gifts, and give your rewards to someone else! However, I will read the writing for the king and make known its#tn Or “the.” interpretation. 18 As for you, O king, the most high God bestowed on your father Nebuchadnezzar a kingdom, greatness, honor, and majesty.#tn Or “royal greatness and majestic honor,” if the four terms are understood as a double hendiadys. 19 Due to the greatness that he bestowed on him, all peoples, nations, and language groups were trembling with fear#tn Aram “were trembling and fearing.” This can be treated as a hendiadys, “were trembling with fear.” before him. He killed whom he wished, he spared#tn Aram “let live.” This Aramaic form is the aphel participle of חַיָה(khayah, “to live”). Theodotion and the Vulgate mistakenly take the form to be from מְחָא (mÿkha’, “to smite”). whom he wished, he exalted whom he wished, and he brought low whom he wished. 20 And when his mind#tn Aram “heart.” became arrogant#sn The point of describing Nebuchadnezzar as arrogant is that he had usurped divine prerogatives, and because of his immense arrogance God had dealt decisively with him. and his spirit filled with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and his honor was removed from him. 21 He was driven from human society, his mind#tn Aram “heart.” was changed to that of an animal, he lived#tn Aram “his dwelling.” with the wild donkeys, he was fed grass like oxen, and his body became damp with the dew of the sky, until he came to understand that the most high God rules over human kingdoms, and he appoints over them whomever he wishes.
22 “But you, his son#tn Or “descendant”; or “successor.” Belshazzar, have not humbled yourself,#tn Aram “your heart.” although you knew all this. 23 Instead, you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven. You brought before you the vessels from his temple, and you and your nobles, together with your wives and concubines, drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver, gold, bronze, iron, wood, and stone – gods#tn Aram “which.” that cannot see or hear or comprehend! But you have not glorified the God who has in his control#tn Aram “in whose hand [are].” your very breath and all your ways! 24 Therefore the palm of a hand was sent from him, and this writing was inscribed.
25 “This is the writing that was inscribed: mene, mene,#tc The Greek version of Theodotion lacks the repetition of מְנֵא (mÿne’, cf. NAB). teqel, and pharsin.#tc The Aramaic word is plural. Theodotion has the singular (cf. NAB “PERES”). 26 This is the interpretation of the words:#tn Or “word” or “event.” See HALOT 1915 s.v. מִלָּה. As for mene#tn The Aramaic term מְנֵא (mÿne’) is a noun referring to a measure of weight. The linkage here to the verb “to number” (Aram. מְנָה, mÿnah) is a case of paronomasia rather than strict etymology. So also with תְּקֵל (tÿqel) and פַרְסִין (farsin). In the latter case there is an obvious wordplay with the name “Persian.” – God has numbered your kingdom’s days and brought it to an end. 27 As for teqel – you are weighed on the balances and found to be lacking. 28 As for peres#sn Peres (פְּרֵס) is the singular form of פַרְסִין (pharsin) in v. 25. – your kingdom is divided and given over to the Medes and Persians.”
29 Then, on Belshazzar’s orders,#tn Aram “Belshazzar spoke.” Daniel was clothed in purple, a golden collar was placed around his neck, and he was proclaimed third ruler in the kingdom. 30 And in that very night Belshazzar, the Babylonian king,#tn Aram “king of the Chaldeans.” was killed.#sn The year was 539 B.C. At this time Daniel would have been approximately eighty-one years old. The relevant extra-biblical records describing the fall of Babylon include portions of Herodotus, Xenophon, Berossus (cited in Josephus), the Cyrus Cylinder, and the Babylonian Chronicle. 31 (6:1)#sn Beginning with 5:31, the verse numbers through 6:28 in the English Bible differ from the verse numbers in the Aramaic text (BHS), with 5:31 ET = 6:1 AT, 6:1 ET = 6:2 AT, 6:2 ET = 6:3 AT, 6:3 ET = 6:4 AT, etc., through 6:28 ET = 6:29 AT. Beginning with 7:1 the verse numbers in the English Bible and the Aramaic text are again the same. So Darius the Mede took control of the kingdom when he was about sixty-two years old.
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